When seconds count: Parole agents learn to save lives under fire

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By Division of Adult Parole Operations staff

Nineteen parole agents from the California Parole Apprehension Team (CPAT) and Division Training Unit (DTU) attended a four-day Combat Lifesaver course earlier this spring. The course, hosted by the U.S. Army Reserve Center in Garden Grove, was taught by current and former U.S. Army medical personnel and CPAT agents who are licensed Emergency Medical Technicians.

The Combat Lifesaver course teaches law enforcement personnel the skills to save lives in the field before medical aid arrives. This is the sixth time that CPAT has been involved with the Combat Lifesaver course in the last five years.

The skills taught in the course have already been used in the field and have been credited with stabilizing serious injuries and saving several lives.

“There have been at least two times that emergency room surgeons told CPAT agents that the agents’ medical response at the scene saved a person’s life,” said Jason Bradshaw, a Parole Agent III with San Diego CPAT. “People are alive today because of the training that our agents received in this course.”

During the course, agents learned to assess injuries during a crisis, provide emergency aid to themselves and others, and move injured persons to a safer location where they can receive additional medical attention. They were taught how to provide medical care when the agent and injured person is under active fire, in the field with cover, or in a safe location once the injured person has been evacuated or the scene is no longer dangerous.

Agents learned to identify and control major bleeding from an injury such as a gunshot, knife wound, car accident, or other trauma. Agents learned how and where to apply tourniquets and compression bandages, then practiced the application on themselves and each other.

Since an injury with extreme bleeding can cause death within several minutes, agents underwent timed drills to make sure they could use their new skills efficiently. Agents were also taught how to splint broken bones and open an airway using a nasopharyngeal airway

Agents also learned to conduct a full head-to-toe medical assessment of an injured person, including how to assess for internal trauma and serious injuries that might not be immediately visible. Agents then practiced techniques for evacuating an injured partner by themselves and with additional partners.

Agents had to pull or carry their injured partner and safely get them into a vehicle for evacuation. This is an essential skill for law enforcement, since medics generally cannot enter an area that is considered “hot,” meaning there is still an active threat.

Agents participated in live scenarios. Using Hollywood quality make-up and props, role players were used to simulate persons with serious injuries such as compound fractures, amputations, blunt force trauma, major chemical burns, head wounds, chest wounds, and gunshot wounds.

Agents did not know what they were walking into in advance. They had to assess the injuries as they were encountered and provide treatment with the limited supplies they carried with them. Agents then had to determine how and where to move the injured person for further medical aid.

In some scenarios, agents responded to numerous casualties in a dark, smoky, noisy building. The scene was one of chaos, meant to put the agents under extreme pressure and mimic the environment of a mass shooting, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. The instructors did their best to make the scenario feel as real as possible.

“This really gets your blood pumping,” said John Silva, a Parole Agent I with San Diego CPAT. “When you’re in there, you forget that this is a scenario. It feels real and you respond like it’s real.”

On the final day, agents learned to integrate their law enforcement experience with their new medical training. Agents were put in scenarios they would likely encounter in the field, such as arresting a parolee-at-large at a residence, contacting a subject in a vehicle, and moving in to assist a partner who was conducting surveillance.

“Most of these scenarios are based on actual events that have occurred with CPAT agents,” said Joshua Bateson, a Parole Agent II Supervisor and instructor with Orange County CPAT.  “We want to keep this as realistic as possible and recreate situations that agents have already had to deal with,” he said.

During each scenario, agents had to deal with an unexpected medical emergency such as a partner being shot. Agents had to respond tactically as a team to protect themselves and their partners, while also using the skills they just learned to manage the major injury sustained by their partner.

The outcome of the scenario was dictated by the agents’ actions.

“The scenarios are dynamic,” said Eddie Sanchez, a Parole Agent II Supervisor and instructor with Riverside CPAT.  “How it plays out is based on how the agent responds. If they miss something in their assessment, that’s going to be reflected in the scenario.”

At the conclusion of the four-day training, agents left with a new set of crucial skills that may one day save their life or the life of someone else.

“You can’t put a price on this type of training,” said Kenneth Thomas, a Parole Agent III and instructor with Los Angeles CPAT. “Agents have already saved lives as a result of this training and will continue to do so in the future. It’s my hope that one day every CDCR staff member will receive this training.”

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